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Opposition, 6.4 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Spanish Translation

Posted by joespencer on October 29, 2012

My last post dealt with Italian renderings of 2 Nephi 2:11. With that, we’ve finished working through the three major early translations—all originally produced in 1852. Interestingly, though the Spanish translation of the Book of Mormon appeared relatively early as well, it didn’t appear at all until 1886. This ought to be a bit shocking. Missionaries were canvassing Western Europe in the 1850s, but Spain seems to have been left out. And even though Parley Pratt inaugurated a mission to South America in the 1850s as well, no serious efforts were made to produce a full translation of the Book of Mormon into the language of the people the early Saints regarded as the actual heirs of the Book of Mormon peoples.

Be all that as it may, there have been several Spanish translations—many, in fact. Among them, though, there are only four distinct versions of 2 Nephi 2:11—the first rendering in 1886, a distinct one from 1952, a new one from 1980, and then the most recent one, from the 1990s. I’ll be looking at them all, and in the same way I’ve been doing this all along.

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.

So far as this first sentence is concerned, there are actually only two variations in Spanish. There’s the original, 1886, rendering: “Porque es necesario que haya una oposicion en todas las cosas.” And then there’s the rendering that has appeared since 1952: “porque es preciso que haya una oposición en todas las cosas.” Note that only a since word has changed: necesario becomes preciso. What’s to be said here?

First, what’s the difference between necesario and preciso? The former means “necessary,” of course. The latter means “essential,” “necessary,” “crucial”: “because it is essential that there be an opposition in all things.” This is the first time we’ve seen this sort of rendering in general. Most of the translations we’ve dealt with have tried to find a way to say that “there must necessarily be” opposition, or that “it is necessary that there be” opposition. Here we have what might be the best non-literal translation of “must needs be” we’ve seen: “it is essential that there be an opposition in all things.” This certainly captures what English-speakers tend to read into these words.

What else might be said? Well, it certain should be noticed how generally literal this verse is from the very beginning. There’s no exploration of alternate renderings of “opposition.” There’s no stripping of the indefinite article from “an opposition,” nor any verbal renderings. Further, it’s a matter of opposition “in all things” from start to finish here. There’s no removing “all things” to an earlier part of the sentence, etc. The only slight difference between “original” and the translations here is the subjunctive mood of “be” in Spanish, distinct slightly from the indicate “is” in English. But that’s something we’ve seen almost universally in translations.

So let’s get on.

If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.

In the case of this sentence, we actually have four distinct renderings on offer. The first, of course, comes from 1886: “Puesque de otro modo, oh mi primer hijo nacido en el desierto, no se realizaría la justicia, ni habría iniquidad, ni santidad, ni miseria; ni bien, ni mal.” This was altered in 1952: “Pues de otro modo, mi primer hijo nacido en el desierto, no habría justicia ni iniquidad, ni santidad ni miseria, ni bien ni mal.” Then again in 1980: “Pues de otro modo, mi primer hijo nacido en el desierto, no se podría llevar a efecto la justicia ni la iniquidad, ni tampoco la santidad ni la miseria, ni el bien ni el mal.” Finally, in the 1990s, one further word was changed: “Pues de otro modo, mi primer hijo nacido en el desierto, no se podría llevar a efecto la rectitud ni la iniquidad, ni tampoco la santidad ni la miseria, ni el bien ni el mal.” What’s to be learned here?

All four renderings agree on the first clause: “For, otherwise.” That’s not terribly literal, but it certain gets at the same idea. The next clause is consistently and literally translated (except for the stray presence of an exclamative “oh” in the first rendering). The word choice among the several opposites is almost perfectly consistent, with one fully-expected change. For “righteousness,” the several translations propose “justice” until the 1990s, at which point “uprightness” takes its place. There are no real surprises here. So let’s focus on syntactic construction, as well as on the wording of “brought to pass.” That’s where there’s some genuine variation.

Remember, once more, the construction of the “original”: “X could not be brought to pass, neither not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” The earliest rendering of this last part of the sentence in Spanish employs the following: “X would not be realized, neither would there be not-X, neither Y, nor not-Y; neither Z, nor not-Z.” The differences here are interesting. In the place of “could not be brought to pass” we have “would not be realized”—a different modality and a different, but not inappropriate, verb (one we’ve seen before, in fact). And then, in the place of a simple “neither not-X” we have “neither would there be not-X”—an added verb apparently meant to establish a bit of symmetry between the first two opposites. This attempt disappears in a certain way in the 1952 rendering, but with a reworking of the translation of “could not be brought to pass”: “there would not be X or not-X, neither Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Notice that shift from the relatively more literal “X would not be realized” to “there would not be X.” Not only is the modality still different (“could” versus “would”), but now the passive construction of the “original” has disappeared as well, and the idea of coming to pass has disappeared into an existential claim (“there would not be”). Of course, this is a rendering we’ve also seen before. Finally, then, the construction that has appeared since 1980: “X could not be brought into effect, neither not-X, nor also Y nor not-Y, neither Z nor not-Z.” Here we’re closer to the “original,” though it’s worth reflecting on whether being “brought to pass” can be said to be equivalent to being “brought into effect.” (The former seems to me a bit less dynamic, a bit more passive, than the latter.) Also note the replacement of “neither Y” suddenly with “nor also Y.” Does that construction perhaps suggest a kind of distancing of the second two sets of opposites from the first set? There may be something to think about there.

But what now needs to be said about this second sentence?

Here again—my apologies!—we’re not seeing much we haven’t seen in previous translations. But there are a few new things to think about. Most interesting, perhaps, is the tension between “brought to pass” and “brought into effect.” Although some previous translations in other languages have made us think about the passive construction of “be brought to pass,” as well as about whether this phrase is equivalent to an existential claim, etc., we’re now finally forced to ask about the status just of “pass.” Does this word mean to indicate some kind of effectivity (“into effect”)? Or is it less dynamic? How should we think about the phrase at all?

Also new here is the slight suggestion that there’s a line to be drawn between the first set of oppositions and the other two sets. And perhaps this is suggested—though through a different construction—in the “original” English, with its curiously placed “neither” in “neither not-X.” At any rate, we’re forced here to ask whether there’s something privileged about the righteousness/wickedness pairing, over against the other pairings.

Some food for thought. And now we turn to the notorious “compound in one” phrase.

Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.

Here, as in the first sentence of the verse, we actually have only two variations. The first, naturally, comes from the earliest, 1886, rendering: “Por cuyo motivo, todas las cosas vienen a formar un solo conjunto.” This was changed in 1952, and it has remained constant since then: “De modo que todas las cosas necesariamente serían un solo conjunto.” What’s to be said here?

Note first that, as with the first sentence of the verse, there’s a consistency in rendering “all things” as “all things” (todas las cosas). It’s certainly of interest that there’s no variation in the Spanish translation with this term, though we’ve seen all the other languages play with “every thing” or “each thing” or, in some cases, renderings still more distant. In Spanish “all things” remains “all things.” Similarly, the rendering of “a compound in one” remains consistent in Spanish, always appearing as un solo conjunto. There’s no variation on this point—though it will be necessary to investigate the implications of this consistent translation. At any rate, the first thing to note is a certain consistency among those elements of this sentence that tend to wild variation in other languages. Of course, there is significant variation when it comes to the remainder of the passage.

Second, then, the rendering of “wherefore.” This has been, generally speaking, a rather simple affair in the other languages we’ve considered. Here, however, both translations—which differ from each other rather significantly—are more inventive than we’re used to seeing. The 1886 rendering gives us “for which reason” or “for which cause” (por cuyo motivo). In some ways, this is the best rendering of “wherefore” we’ve seen across all the translations we’ve covered. It gets, anyway, at the meaning of “wherefore” much more directly than renderings that transform it into “thus” or “therefore” or “so.” And it might be noted that here, yet again, the rendering of “wherefore” makes clear (especially when coupled with the form of the verb that follows) that the translators understood the “compound in one” business to describe the “good” situation of there being an opposition in all things. That’s important to note since the other Spanish translation points in the other direction, more clearly than any other rendering we’ve seen so far. Since 1952, “for which reason/cause” has been replaced by “in such a way that” (de modo que). When this rendering is combined with the conditional verb that follows it (serían), it’s unmistakable that the more recent Spanish translators understood this whole “compound in one” business to refer to the “bad” situation in which there is no opposition in all things. This is, as I say, the only translation we’ve seen that clearly interprets the passage this way.

That the rendering of “a compound in one” can remain consistent across these two translations, these two renderings that interpret the significance of the “wherefore” so distinctly, is striking. And so it’s worth saying, third, a few words about the translation of “a compound in one.” The Spanish presents it as “a single set” or “a single whole” (employing a word semantically equivalent to other renderings we’ve seen: conjunto can refer to a musical ensemble, a mathematical set, and, in general terms, a whole or a collection). Here as elsewhere the “in one” business has been interpreted as qualifying the number of the set in question: “a single set” rather than “a set in one.” Some of the same questions that have been raised elsewhere, then, are raised here again. But as I say, what’s most striking about this rendering is its consistency across two translations that clearly differ on the ultimate significance of this “single set.” The 1886 rendering seems straightforwardly to take this “single set” of which all things are formed to be the way things actually are in this world of oppositions, while the 1952 rendering just as straightforwardly takes this “single set” to describe the situation that would unfortunately hold were there not to be an opposition in all things.

Let’s turn, then, to the rendering of the remainder of the sentence, since it will make clear that this is what’s going on in these two renderings. From 1886: “For which reason, all things come to form a single set.” Note first that the verb here is in the simple indicative: “come” (not “would come” or “must come” or any such thing). This makes clear that there’s a gap between this sentence and the one preceding it, since the preceding sentence uses the conditional (“would not be”). And note second that what “all things” do is come to form a single set. The logic of this claim, it seems, is that because the lack of an opposition in all things would foil the possibility of the ethical opposites being realized (according to the previous sentence, that is), all things come to form some kind of a total combination. This is a very strange rendering. The modality of necessity is missing, and we’re instead informed about the way things simply are: all things come to form a single set. And how is one to make sense of the “come” here? Is this supposed to be connected to the “be brought to pass” business of the English of the preceding sentence? In that the ethical opposites are brought to pass, it can be said that all things come to form a single set? What’s going on here? Obviously, there’s much thinking that could be done here.

But then here’s the translation that has appeared since 1952: “In such a way that all things would necessarily be a single set.” Here, as I’ve already noted, it’s clear that the translators interpreted the “compound in one” locution to describe the lack of opposition in all things experimentally discussed in the preceding sentence. Note the close connection of words: “For, otherwise” (Pues, de otro modo), begins the preceding sentence; “In such a way” (De modo que), begins this sentence. These might be rendered with a bit of liberty and yet with a kind of literalism not yet put on display: “For, if another mode were to hold” and “That other mode would further indicate that.” Making this continuity still clearer is the replacement in this translation of the indicative (“come”) with the conditional (“would . . . be”): we remain within the hypothetical of the preceding sentence. And yet it’s here that the modality of necessity is picked up from the English. And then one might begin to ask about the replacement of becoming (“come to form”) with being (“would necessarily be”), but I don’t want to get too far afield.

Let’s make some final conclusions about this sentence.

The most significant thing we’ve seen here is the profound sense of continuity in rendering both “all things” and “a compound in one,” unmatched in the other languages we’ve considered, especially when this is coupled with the curious fact that it is in Spanish alone that there is a switch from one translation to another between whether “a compound in one” is taken to represent the existence or the entire lack of opposition in all things. That’s most fascinating, and something that should give us pause. How should “a compound in one” be interpreted vis-a-vis the rest of the verse? And how can we see variation on this point in a translation that keeps both “all things” and “a compound in one” consistent?

Apart from this major finding, there are a few other details that deserve attention. How might the rendering of “must needs be” as “come to form” give us to rethink the passage? What about the use of a conditional (“would necessarily be”)? Does that represent anything like what’s at work in the original? And how do we think about the appearance, yet again, of a rendering that takes “compound in one” to be a matter of “a single set”? All of these represent interpretive possibilities we’ll have to come back to.

For the moment, though, let’s get on and finish this series of posts on translation!

Wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility

As with the second sentence, the fourth sentence gives us four distinct renderings in Spanish. First, 1886: “Por lo tanto, si fueren un solo cuerpo, habría de estar como muerto, pues no tendría ni vida, ni muerte, ni corrupcion, ni incorrupcion, ni felicidad ni miseria, ni sensibilidad ni insensibilidad.” Just a point or two—but of real importance—were changed for the 1952 translation: “y si fuese un solo cuerpo, habría de estar como muerto, pues no tendría ni vida, ni muerte, ni corrupcion, ni incorrupcion, ni felicidad ni miseria, ni sensibilidad ni insensibilidad.” Again just a couple of (rather different) slight changes for the 1980 translation: “por tanto, si fuese un solo cuerpo, habría de estar como muerto, no teniendo ni vida ni muerte, ni corrupción ni incorrupción, ni felicidad ni miseria, ni sensibilidad ni insensibilidad.” Finally, just a single word was replaced for the current, 1990s translations: “por tanto, si fuese un solo cuerpo, habría de permanecer como muerto, no teniendo ni vida ni muerte, ni corrupción ni incorrupción, ni felicidad ni miseria, ni sensibilidad ni insensibilidad.” What’s to be said here?

Let me deal first with “if it should be one body,” since it seems to be the key to the several renderings. Note that in the earliest translation, we get “if they were a single body,” whereas we get in all the other translations “if it were a single body.” What’s the difference? The “they” of the earliest rendering refers back, clearly, to “all things” in the preceding sentence. This makes all the clearer that the 1886 translation took the “compound in one” business to be a matter of opposition rather than its lack. The switch in subsequent translations from “they” to “it” signals the shift in interpretation. This is especially clear from the translation of “wherefore” in 1952 simply as “and”: “In such a way that all things would necessarily be a single set, and if it were a single body, it would have to be as dead,” etc. Notice what’s going on there. The “wherefore” is replaced by an “and” to keep the sharp continuity between the third and fourth sentences and to make the “it” of “if it should be one body” refer directly to the “compound in one.” Interestingly, the “and” is replaced anew by “therefore” in the 1980 and 1990s translations, while the remainder stayed as it was in the 1952 translation. There’s a slight distancing there, but not enough: the interpretation remains the same.

Also worthy of note in this “one body” business is the rendering as “a single body.” The translators, from beginning to end, hear in the English an emphasis on “one” in “one body,” but it’s worth noting the way that “a single body” strongly echoes the Spanish rendering of “compound in one” as “a single set” as well (un solo conjunto and un solo cuerpo). Perhaps it was this echo that led translators after the original, first rendering to draw such a tight connection between “compound in one” and “one body,” assuming them both to mark the absence of opposition. All of this deserves further thought.

There is, interestingly, a relative continuity among the translations of “it must needs remain as dead.” Through 1980, it is consistently rendered as “it would have to be as dead.” The slightest change appeared in the 1990s translation (marking the only change made to this sentence in the most recent rendering): “be” was replaced with “remain.” Continuity, then, but perhaps somewhat deceptive continuity. The “it” of “it would have to be as dead” would seem to have changed referents across the translations. Given the plural construction of “if they were a single body” in the 1886 rendering, the “it” of “it would have to be as dead” had to refer to “a single body.” But with the switch beginning in 1952 to “if it were a single body,” it would seem that the “it” of “it would have to be as dead” would refer, along with the “it” of “if it were a single body,” back to the “single compound” of the preceding sentence. Here again we’re finding in Spanish a remarkable continuity of text in places where the meaning nonetheless changes drastically over time.

And then let me say just a word about the structure of the opposites at the end of this last sentence. Note, first, that there is no real change in word choice over the several translations, something we haven’t seen in any other translation. But leaving that issue aside, we can note only one real change in this last part of the verse. In 1886 and 1952, we get: “for it would have neither life, nor death,” etc. In 1980 and the 1990s, we get instead: “having neither life nor death,” etc. This is a slight change but one worth noting. The earlier rendering puts a little heavier causal weight on the lack of oppositions (“for”). That disappears with the more literal rendering that appears beginning in 1980, but it has perhaps alerted us for the first time to the fact that even the “having” structure of the original English suggests something of a causal relationship. That’s something we’ll have to think about.

What have learned here, then?

Two very interesting questions of interpretation were raised by the rendering of “if it should be one body.” First, we’re forced to ask to what the “it” of the phrase refers—whether to the “compound in one” of the preceding sentence or to something else. That’s a question that will be a real interpretive importance. Second, we’re forced to ask whether we should see some kind of relationship between “compound in one” and “one body,” specifically in terms of the word “one.” Is there an intentional tie there? Finally, the last particularly interesting interpretive issue raised here is this question of whether the “having”-structure of “having neither life,” etc., implies a certain causal relationship, however weak. There’s more to investigate there.

But let’s summarize what’s been learned here in general.

Summary Thoughts

We’ve come to the end of the last of our translational investigations. What have we learned here?

For the first time, we’ve begun to let the several renderings of “must needs be” get us thinking. The almost universal rendering across the several languages of “must needs be” as either “necessarily” (“must necessarily be,” etc.) or “necessary” (“it is necessary that,” etc.) has kept us from thinking too carefully about the original. The translation of this phrase as es preciso que, “it is essential that,” gives us to wonder exactly what “must needs be” means. Is it not more semantically appropriate to talk about essentiality than necessity? That’s something we’ll have to think about more. Later in the passage, we’ve seen another question about “must needs be.” How important to this phrase is the infinitive of its “be”? Is it downright inappropriate to transform it into an indicative (“come to form”) or a condition (“would necessarily be”), or are these alterations without major effect on the meaning? Whether or not a whole lot is changed with the switch to the indicative in particular, how does the translation of “must needs be” as “come to form” give us to rethink what’s at stake in the phrase? There’s much food for thought there.

Other translations have made us think a bit about the phrase “brought to pass,” with renderings ranging from “take place” through “be realized” to “exist.” What’s new here, however, is the rendering of “brought to pass” as “brought into effect.” We’ve had occasion to ask about the passivity of the construction, but now we’re prodded to ask about the dynamic or the static nature of “to pass.” Is there something essentially inert about that, or is it dynamic? Do the oppositions brought to pass have some kind of power or potentiality? Or is there something else at work there. Does “effect” bring out or obscure what’s in the “original” English text there?

A few questions have been raised about the use of the word “one” in 2 Nephi 2:11. We’ve seen several translations over the course of the last few posts that render the “in one” of “a compound in one” as “a single” (positioned before “compound”), but here we’ve finally allowed that to raise a question of interpretation. How do we think about the “in one” if we don’t take it as a qualification of how the compounding of the compound is effected—which is how it is most consistently rendered? Does the oneness of this “in one” refer to the oneness of the compound? And if so, in what way? We’ve further noted the possibility that this “one” has a direct relationship to the “one” of “one body” in the sentence that follows it, something indicated by the parallel renderings of “one” in Spanish. Is there a constitutive relationship between these two words, or is the Spanish translation misleading in that regard? Be that as it may, we should note that there’s something of an indication in the further question here raised about the referent of “it” in “if it should be one body.” If the referent is “a compound in one,” then there would seem to be a particular relationship at work there. But it’s possible that the “it” refers to something else, and that’s a question we’ll have to raise carefully as we work at interpreting the passage.

A question or two came up as well in connection with the two lists of oppositions (in sentences two and four). It’s fascinating to note that the syntactic constructions are almost identical in these Spanish renderings to what is to be found in the “original” English. But different sorts of questions are raised, perhaps simply because we aren’t bombarded by so much constructional variation. First, then, we noted the possibility that there’s something privileged about the first set of ethical oppositions (righteousness/wickedness). The way the Spanish handles this, and it directly reflects the English, makes one wonder whether the complicated construction at the beginning of that list sets off the righteousness/wickedness couple as particularly important. That’s certainly something to consider. Further, we’ve seen good reason, giving a bit of variation in the Spanish rendering, to wonder whether the “having” of “having neither life,” etc., has a causal function. Does the “having” of neither life nor death lie causally behind the “remaining as dead” business that precedes it? This seems likely, but we’ll have to ask that question anew in the course of interpretation.

Finally, a word about what may be the most significant find in Spanish. Only in this language have we seen an unmistakably intentional interpretation of “a compound in one” as a “negative” thing. That is, only here have we seen a translation that takes the third sentence of the verse to be referring to a state of affairs at odds with what is described in the first sentence: if “all things” are “a compound in one,” then we’re dealing with a world without opposition. This interpretation has not really appeared at all—and certainly not explicitly—in all the translations we’ve seen. The standing interpretation has always been that “a compound in one” is a good way of describing a world in which opposition does appear. Interestingly, as we’ve noted again and again, it’s what is uniquely brought out in the Spanish here that represents the standard interpretation of “a compound in one” among English-speaking commentators—something we’ve seen in previous posts. That there’s an indication of this here, but only here, is most interesting. What’s to be learned from the overwhelming majority opinion among translators? And what’s to be learned by this one translational point of resistance? This is something we’ll be thinking about very carefully.

And that, for now, is it. Our work on the translations—long it’s been!—is at an end. What’s next?

6 Responses to “Opposition, 6.4 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Spanish Translation”

  1. [...] Opposition, 6.4 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Spanish Translation « Feast upon the Word Blog on Opposition, 6.3 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Italian Translation [...]

  2. [...] Opposition, 0 – Series Introduction « Feast upon the Word Blog on Opposition, 6.4 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Spanish Translation [...]

  3. Joe,

    I just keep thinking about how few people have the background to perform such an intricate analysis of this important verse, how many fewer have done it, and how many fewer still have shared this detailed analysis. What a small chance that I am fortunate enough to have access to these ideas.

    Thank you for all your time and thought.

    I’m just finishing up re-reading “Till We Have Faces”, along with an online commentary I found, thanks for your recommendation of that too.

    About 15 years ago I had a “reverse born again” experience. I realized then that everything good is not “religious”, that accepting and using, “the true me-good and bad”, leads to wholeness, and that there is great energy in the middle of the tension of opposition (kind of like the synapses of the brain). Back then I came up with a family home evening lesson and today I decided to post my thoughts and the lesson in my blog. If you are interested, you can read it at http://life-literacy-happiness.blogspot.com/2012/11/to-every-thing-there-is-season.html .

    Thank you–

    • joespencer said

      Thanks for the link! And thanks for your too-kind remarks. I think there are many who have the background to do the kind of work I’m doing, though I’ll agree there are few doing it and fewer still sharing it. But let’s help make that change!

  4. Anne said

    Nice post! I enjoyed reading it.

  5. [...] as well as, more radically, the profound instability of this text: see here, here, here, and here. (I might note that I’m currently in the process of transforming these four posts on translation [...]

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